Designing Your Perfect Wine Cellar
By Gina Dostler
The tall deep green bottle tipped gently, dispensing a luscious flow of deep ruby liquid that hit the inside of the glass and swirled up and around the bowl in a whirlpool motion, then settled into a half-full state of fermented stillness.
The peppery smell lifted out of the glass then lingered into a jammy vanilla spice, loosely surrounded by a hint of chocolate and smokey oak.
Around the table the beautiful full bodied red stood breathing in every guest’s glass as the host stood up to toast a wonderful holiday meal. After the handheld salute, the red wine slipped past everyone’s lips in a silky manner that spilled into the palate with tasty applause. Laughter ensued, clinks of silverware sounded out, babble of words rose higher and higher making dinner dance in the warm, fuzzy splendor of holiday cheer.
Those of you who love every aspect of wine from its taste to the festivities it brings, also appreciate the time, effort, devotion and skill involved inside those bottles. It is this understanding that fuels the desire to create a special place or room for its storage. Whether you are a collector of expensive vintages or an avid consumer, having a special place to keep the wines is, when you come right down to it, not just something you do for the wine, but for yourself.
And a beautiful place to hang out.
Jerry Wilson wholeheartedly agrees. Having been a general contractor for many years, his love for wine brought him to designing and building custom wine cellars of his own. I caught up with this busy fellow who has built wine displays for well-knowns such as Clint Eastwood and, most recently, the Ritz Carlton. We talked storage, trendy cellar floors and all the good stuff around it.
Q: You’ve been designing and constructing wine cellars for 13 years. Tell me, what would be my first step in building a wine cellar?
A: Decide how you wish to store, manage and display your wine collection. Ask yourself how many bottles of wine you have and plan to have in the future. This question falls basically under two questions – are you a collector or are you more of an entertainer with your wines. As a collector you will be more concerned with the amount of bottles to store for future use, how they are displayed, and keeping the right temperature. The entertainer is more concerned with a passive environment that focuses on current storage and a faster rotation of stock for dinners, parties and events.
A: Exactly. And you’d be surprised the amount of bottles you can store in a small space. For instance, an 8’ x 6’ room can hold up to 1,000 wine bottles. That’s a space of an average walk-in closet. Say you need storage of maybe just 250 bottles, all you’d need is a quarter of that space. You can use a closet, a spare bedroom, part of the garage, a section of your entertainment room, small study or loft, the den or a basement. The basic formula for how many bottles can fit on one wall goes like this: for every square foot of wall space, you can hold 9 bottles of wine.
Q: Is refrigeration a necessity?
A: Wine cellar cooling systems are the heart of every wine cellar with a respectable collection of wine. Without it, there’s simply no way for a wine collection to mature properly. Store the bottles lying down, with an optimum temperate of 57 degrees and humidity around 55 – 65%. A good wine cellar refrigeration system stabilizes the precise wine cellar temperature and humidity needed to preserve the wine. An air tight environment is very important. Dual pane glass is required for all windows and doors need to be properly sealed.
A: It is important that a wine cellar door keep the proper cooling condition sealed inside the room. A refrigerated cellar requires the door to be rated as an exterior door. The weather stripping around the door keeps the warmer air outside from converging with the cool air inside. Mix cool air and warm air and moisture occurs which in turn creates a perfect condition for mold and mildew. But just as important, a cellar door reflects personality and accomplishments. What does the door say about you? Family crest etched in glass speaks legacy. Company logo carved in wood pronounces success. Wrought iron arching gracefully against a glass pane says Old World charm.
Q: What about the lighting in a wine cellar? Any restrictions?
A: Anything goes with lighting. It can be as simple as recessed can lights. Or directional and track lights to highlight areas. Wall sconces add a beautiful ambiance to the cellar. Even chandeliers can grace the cellar rooms with their regal elegance. Right now, LED ribbon lighting is very popular with accenting the cellar archways, arches, corners and high-reveal display racking. The only thing you need to avoid is too much wattage which creates heat and can ruin the wines. Have you ever wondered why wines are traditionally bottled in colored glass? The colored glass creates a dark environment and protects the wine from ultraviolet light, which damages wines. UV light stimulates stable organic compounds in wines which form unpleasant odors and flavors resulting in spoilage. Your wine cellar lighting should provide ample light for reading wine labels, conducting tastings and moving about the cellar but without exposing wines to excessive heat and UV light.
A: The wine cellar talks lifestyle, whether contemporary or traditional, it is uniquely you. The floor can be wood or tile or slate. A trend in flooring is using Napa Valley 10 year old oak barrel flooring that gives a beautiful warm earthy feel. The floor is made from a combination of the inside and the outside of the barrel which gives endless visual possibilities – all plain red, golden brown, or a mixture of red and brown. Remember carpet is a big no in wine cellars due to mold. Paneling in other types of wood can also lend flavor to the room with matching earth tone wood ceilings, floors or walls in redwood which is very popular in wine cellars. Or woods in mahogany stained brown, cherry, or a very distinctive black enamel. Tasting tables are a definite part of a tasting room and some create a whole entertainment area centered around their collection of wines.
Q: I take it there are all kinds of wine racks available for the cellars?
A: Of course. Semi custom wine rack kits can be found in 6ft., 7ft., and 8ft. heights in single storage that can include a display row, arches, tabletops, tasting tables, and waterfall displays to name a few. Custom racks are very popular to bring a unique style and personal touch to your wine cellar. Pine, redwood or mahogany create beautiful long lasting racks and can be stained to your preference.